Iran threatens to end some nuclear inspections next week

Iranian foreign ministry says it’ll prevent certain visits by UN watchdog if other parties to nuclear accord ‘fail to meet their obligations’

Illustrative: IAEA inspectors at Iran's nuclear power plant in Natanz on January 20, 2014. (IRNA/AFP Kazem Ghane/File)
Illustrative: IAEA inspectors at Iran's nuclear power plant in Natanz on January 20, 2014. (IRNA/AFP Kazem Ghane/File)

Iran on Monday reiterated its warning that it will halt certain nuclear inspections if other parties to the 2015 deal limiting the country’s atomic program “fail to meet their obligations” by February 21.

The Iranian foreign ministry said the move would see Iran end its adherence to the “additional protocol” of the nuclear accord, which prescribes intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities.

“All these measures will be reversible, provided the other parties adhere to their obligations,” ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said, according to the official IRNA news agency.

Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency said the UN watchdog was informed of the move.

A bill passed by the conservative-dominated legislature in December, despite opposition from a reformist government, mandates the government to stop “the implementation of the additional protocol” to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on February 21, if the US does not lift unilateral sanctions or other key parties to the deal with Iran do not help Tehran to bypass those sanctions.

At present, such inspections are carried out under this protocol, in addition to regular IAEA inspections. Iran is threatening that the latter will continue but the former will stop.

Khatibzadeh’s warning came just days after the IAEA confirmed that Iran has started producing uranium metal, in a further violation of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Uranium metal can be used as a component in nuclear weapons. Iran had signed up to a 15-year ban on “producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys” under the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed in 2015 with world powers.

An Iranian technician walks through the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2007. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

Iran previously told the UN nuclear watchdog that it was advancing research on uranium metal production, saying it is aimed at providing advanced fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.

The European parties to the nuclear accord said Iran’s production of uranium metal undermined chances to fully realize the deal reducing sanctions in exchange for limits to its nuclear program.

The landmark deal between Iran and the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France, and Germany to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions has been largely in tatters, since former US president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions.

US President Joe Biden has said he is ready to return to the deal if Iran returns to compliance. Both sides have demanded that the other act first to return to the deal, putting them at a stalemate, for the moment.

Recent Iranian breaches have included exceeding the stockpile limit on enriched uranium, enriching beyond the permitted purity level and using more advanced centrifuges than permitted under the deal.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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